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A Logic of Salvation

by Tim O'Hearn

Logic is not everybody’s favorite subject. Some people just don’t think logically. Others don’t like logic because it shows them they are wrong. Still others just have trouble following a logically constructed argument. Peter may have been among the latter when he said, “As also in all [Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood.” (2 Pet 3:16) Some people, therefore, may want to stop reading right now. What follows may not be easy to understand (although I hope to make it easy). There are some who will just refuse to follow the logic, because it brings them to a conclusion they are not willing to accept. For some people, baptism is not a comfortable subject.

Who will be saved?

The first important thing that must be answered is who will be saved from sin. There are three possibilities, only one of which can be correct. If we can show that two choices are impossible, the third must be correct.

The first possibility, and the most popular with some people, is that God will save everyone. Surely a loving God will not let anyone go to hell. Everyone will be punished, but everyone will go to a place where they can work off their punishment and eventually get to heaven. The problem with this premise is that God says it is just wrong. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” (Matt 25:46) “The rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments...And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” (Lk 16:22-23, 26)

Choice two is that nobody will be saved. None of us want to face the possibility of this choice, except those who believe that the soul is annihilated after death. One argument against this is Jesus on the cross. If nobody can be saved, then Jesus died for no reason. But there are also scriptural arguments against this idea. The same passages that showed that not everybody would be saved also show that some will be. “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” (Lk 16:25) “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matt 25:34)

If it is false that everyone will be saved, and it is false that nobody will be saved, that leaves only one possible option. Some people will be saved and others will not. This option, however, leads to other questions.

If only some people will be saved, either God has a mechanism for determining who will be or he has no way of determining that. In short, either God picks people arbitrarily or he saves based on specific criteria. If God has no means of choosing who is saved, but picks whomever he chooses even before they are born (as is taught by Islam), then none of us have reason for hope. Worse yet, it means that God violates his own attributes. “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8) “And there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour.” (Isa 45:21) (We will have to leave it to another time to discuss how God can be loving, and just, and a savior all at once.) Love and justice both demand that God must have a means of choosing who is saved and who is not, and that such a means be known to man. If God is, as Peter says, “not willing that any perish,” (2 Pet 3:9) then he would be a strange God indeed to violate his own desires for not apparent reason. Therefore, God must have a way of determining who is saved and who is not.

How does God choose?

If it has been shown that God must have a way to choose who has their sins forgiven and who does not, then there are, again, three possibilities, only one of which can be correct. One option is that man can save himself without any help from God. The opposite extreme is that God does everything, and man has no part in his salvation at all. The third option is that both God and man play some part in a man’s salvation.

What if man can save himself? God has given man certain commands. The problem is that man does not keep God’s law. That is where sin comes in. Everybody sins. “And so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” (Rom 5:12) If the problem is that we have all sinned, how can we save ourselves? Even if it were possible that a person could decide, after having sinned once, never to sin again, how would that take away the first sin? The fact of sin itself is what makes us lost. One sin alone is sufficient to require a savior. How then could a man possibly save himself? To be lost means he has already sinned. To save himself he would have to live his entire life without sin. Having sinned, however, prevents him from living without having sinned. Therefore, man can not save himself. And if he could, then God wasted the life of his only begotten son for no reason. On the other hand, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Heb 9:22) The only way man could save himself would be through the shedding of his own blood. God wants living people to follow him. What sort of bride would a church be that consisted entirely of people who had committed suicide to gain forgiveness? John describes the bride of Christ in glorious terms (Rev 21), not as a rotting corpse.

The more popular concept among some is that God has everything to do with salvation, and man has nothing to do. This, though, is another form of the idea that God saves whomever he will, based on no criteria. If God saves without man doing anything, then why will God not save everyone? Logically, if one can prove an exception to a premise, the premise must be false. If there is any passage that says man has any part in his own salvation, then it becomes clear that God does not do everything himself. There is at least one such passage. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Php 2:12) In a way this is actually a relief. It means that God is not purely arbitrary. It also shows that God doesn’t require us to do something totally unnecessary. That is, I have never understood why people who believe that man has no part in his own salvation take the effort to preach. Jesus told his followers, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19-20) If man has no part in his own salvation, then preaching is useless. Why preach to someone who God is not going to save anyway; and why preach to someone he is going to save?

So man has some part to play in his own salvation. How much? One could illustrate the possibilities on a line. God (G) is at one end, and Man (M) is at the other end. Salvation (S) comes somewhere in between. The scale might look like this.

Scale of involvement in salvation

This version shows that God has most to do with salvation, and man very little. I believe it to be the most accurate representation, although the S should almost overlap the M. If so, what is it that man does? Clearly he can’t save himself by his good works. But he must do something to receive the grace of God. Actually, man’s part can be called miniscule. God provided the blood sacrifice. God grants the forgiveness. Man’s part can be phrased simply as accepting God’s grace, or dying to sin, or changing allegiances. Not much at all. But man must act to accept God’s grace.


Logicians talk a lot about fallacies. A fallacy is any assumption or proposition that can be proven wrong. If a conclusion is based on a false assumption, the conclusion is logically false. If a conclusion is clearly false, then the propositions or the assumptions must have been false. You can’t take a wrong road to a right answer.

One such fallacy is the assumption that there are many roads to salvation. If someone wants to believe that baptism is essential to forgiveness of sins, that is fine. But that doesn’t mean that someone who believes that Islam or Scientology can’t get to heaven their way. If the Bible is correct, and if Jesus is who he claims to be, then the assumption is patently false. “Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other [than Jesus]: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) The assumption fails from the start.

Many who claim to believe that God does everything, and for man to do anything is salvation by works rather than by grace, act more like they believe that man has a part. They will say that you are saved entirely by God’s grace, but you have to pray for that grace. This is admitting that man has to perform an act (some would prefer the word “work”) before God will save you. They will argue until they run out of breath that what God has said in the Bible is man’s part in salvation is a works salvation. At the same time, they argue that the work they require man to do is not a work at all. This ends up with a logical fallacy. Man must pray to receive God’s grace. God’s grace does not require any action on man’s part to be saved. Therefore, prayer must not be an action. (They don’t explain what it is if not an action.) The conclusion becomes so clearly false that the assumptions on which it is based must also be false.

Immersion in water, which the Bible clearly states is essential for forgiveness of sins, is no more nor less a work than prayer is. It is the God-approved means by which man accepts God’s grace. It is the burial of the old man and the resurrection to a free life in Christ (Rom 6). It is the logical conclusion. If God says immersion is that point at which one presents himself in sacrifice to God, then Paul calls it “our logical service.” (Rom 12:1)